Commentary

Social Media Stressing Teens, Parents Say

Parents worry that social media is contributing to elevated levels of stress in their young teenage children, according to a new survey of 579 parents with kids ages 13-15 conducted by WebMD in February and March. And while social media is just one of a gaggle of contemporary trends contributing to teen stress, it’s especially insidious because many teens look to it as a stress-reliever – but get the opposite effect.

The WebMD Teens and Stress Consumer Survey found that over half of parents, 55%, rated their teens’ stress level as moderate or high. And digital media and communication is unquestionably one of the most popular ways for teens to deal with stress, with 57% of teen girls and 38% of teen boys turning to social media or texting to let off steam.

But there’s a catch-22 here, as teen girls also reported high levels of stress resulting from their online social networks. Frequent social network use can lead to isolation and anti-social patterns of behavior, not to mention bullying, and has been correlated with depression among teens.

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Naturally this is all concerning for parents. Over half of parents, 52%, have talked to their children about which Web sites they may use and when, and over four in ten said they “follow” their children on social media or look at their phones or text messages, while 35% have checked the Web sites they visit.

Parents have good reason to be snoops, it turns out, as 48% said their child has tried to hide something from them. Teenage girls were more likely to hide things like inappropriate use of social media or sexting, at 14%, compared to 9% of boys.

Last month I wrote about a separate study, titled “Association Between Social Media Use and Depression Among U.S. Young Adults” and published in the journal Depression and Anxiety, which found that respondents who check social media most frequently were 2.7 times as likely to report indicators of depression than respondents who checked least frequently. Meanwhile respondents who reported spending more time on social media were 1.7 times more likely to be depressed than people who spent less time.

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